Farmington school official encourages more families to take advantage of free meal program

Meals are offered each weekday at various locations

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • It offers free meals to local children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The program is open to any child in the community.
McKenna Martinelli, a cashier for A'viands @ FMS, serves five-day meal kits from the the Farmington Municipal School District's central kitchen location on Nov. 9.

FARMINGTON — Many needy students who could be taking advantage of a federally-funded meals program during the COVID-19 pandemic are not doing so, a Farmington schools official says, and she fears it may be because local families misunderstand the eligibility requirements.

Marie Johnson, the student nutrition coordinator at the Farmington Municipal School District, said the program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has the resources to reach far more local students than it is serving.

"I think we have some families out there who are still under the impression they have to fill out a meal application," she said.

That is not the case, Johnson said, explaining that all children ages 1 to 18, even if they are not enrolled in the district, are eligible to receive the free meals throughout the 2020-21 school year, no signup required.

"This is available to anybody in the community who has hungry children," she said. "We just want to feed them."

Johnson said the district has been serving 3,000 to 3,500 meals a day this fall, but she said she would like to see those numbers at 4,000 or 4,500 each day.

Siliva Cano, a A'viands @ FMS food services worker, demonstrates how to use the chopsticks on a teriyaki chicken entree that is part of the district's free meals program.

"Our participating (locations) are struggling right now to serve 50% of what we did last year," she said.

The meals — which include breakfast, lunch and a snack — are served from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. weekdays at several locations in Farmington. They are Animas Elementary School, 1612 N. Hutton Ave.; Apache Elementary School, 700 W. Apache St.; Bluffview Elementary School, 1204 S. Camino Real; Country Club Elementary School, 5300 Foothills Drive; Farmington High School, 2200 N. Sunset Ave.; Hermosa Middle School, 1500 E. 25th St.; McKinley Elementary School, 1201 N. Butler Ave.; and Mesa Verde Elementary School, 3801 College Blvd.

Additionally, the district's central kitchen at 305 N. Court Avenue is offering pickup of five-day meal kits from 3 to 4:30 p.m. each Monday. Those meals include five breakfasts, lunches and snacks intended to feed students for several days.

Johnson said the five-day kits include some selections that are ready to eat and others that are chilled or frozen so they can be heated up and consumed throughout the week. A typical breakfast might feature a slice of zucchini bread, a cheese stick, fruit juice and milk. A typical lunch might consist of an individual pepperoni pizza, corn, a fruit cup and milk. Each snack might include cheddar-flavored crackers and juice. Each kit comes with instructions for when the items should be consumed.

Maria Victoria Jimenez, unit manager for A'viands @ FMS, prepares to hand a meal kit to a parent at Bluffview Elementary School in Farmington.

Curbside pickup service is offered at all those locations, but the meals cannot be eaten on the premises.

Johnson said she is disappointed more parents aren't taking advantage of the program. She suspects there are several reasons why that is happening, including the possible confusion about eligibility. Johnson said many working parents who might otherwise jump at the chance to receive free meals for their children on weekdays are working from home during the pandemic and feeding their children themselves. She also suspects that many high school students who would have been fed under the program are working, perhaps at fast-food restaurants where they also take their meals.

But Johnson believes there is still a significant, needy market out there the program is missing, and she encouraged those families to take advantage of it.

A baked chicken meal with potatoes and green beans is one of the school lunches offered to any local child through a Farmington Municipal School District program.

"One of my disappointments is, I feel the USDA is finally giving universal (free school) meals a chance," she said, explaining that the program could become a fixture of federal offerings when the pandemic is over. "But if we can't get communities to engage, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot here."

Johnson said the district is working hard to make the program's existence known by promoting it on its social media accounts, in email blasts and in press releases.

"Wherever we can get the word out, that's what we're doing," she said.

There are some signs all that outreach is growing. Johnson noted that response to the five-day meal pickup offering on Nov. 9 went very well.

"And it's only going to grow from there," she said. "We feel our efforts are not in vain."

Johnson said parents should remember the free meals will continue to be offered during the holidays.

"Even during school closures, fall break and winter break, there will be options available for them," she said. "There is no reason for any child to be hungry."

The district also offers free delivery of meals via buses for people living in remote areas. Anyone interested in taking advantage of that service should call 505-599-8623.

"All they've got to do is call," Johnson said. "We'll figure it out."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.